Over the last years Azerbaijan has become increasingly important for Italy, turning into the center of Rome’s foreign policy in the Caucasus region.
The relations between the two countries are based primarily on energy sources. Azerbaijian has been for years Italy’s main oil supplier, together with Iraq. Moreover, in November the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) began commercial operations. The TAP is part of a major gas transportation infrastructure, the Southern Gas Corridor, that connects Azerbaijan to Southern Italy, passing through Georgia, Turkey, Greece, and Albany. The pipeline provides a viable alternative to Russian gas, increasing the energy security of the whole EU.
Over time, however, trade exchanges between the two countries have diversified, reaching in 2020 a total value of €6 billion, amounting to 18% of Azerbaijan’s foreign trade. This growth is the result of economic reforms launched in 2018 by the Azerbaijani regime with the aim of transforming the country into an international trading hub, exploiting its strategic position at the crossroads between Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. Italy has therefore become Baku’s main European partner, increasing in the eyes of Rome the relevance of a partnership that also strengthens the dialogue with Turkey, Azerbaijan’s main ally and a crucial player in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The occasion to formalize the new strategic relevance of this relationship came with the state visit of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev to Rome last February. A true “qualitative leap” in the relations between the two countries, completed by the signing of a “multidimensional strategic partnership” comprehensive of several economic agreements ranging from the energy sector to military cooperation, infrastructure, and investments.
However, the main novelty lied in the political implications of the visit. Signing the strategic partnership, Italy abandoned the position of equidistance it had always held with regard to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, adopting a more supportive stance of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty claims within the framework of international law.
As evidence of this, on December 5th, only a few weeks after the end of the clashes that started in September, a delegation of Italian MPs visited the theatre of the fighting, the first Europeans to do so.
A few days later Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Manlio Di Stefano traveled to Baku, where he pledged the support of Italian companies in the reconstruction efforts. As Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Italy Mammad Ahmadzada noted, Italy could help especially with mine-clearance operations, the protection of cultural monuments and the production of electric energy. Recently, Italian company Ansaldo Energia and Azerenerji, the country’s main producer of electricity, signed an agreement concerning the supply of equipment and the rebuilding of some power plants.